There’s a little-known 1965 Superman comic book in which the Man of Steel suffers complete memory loss as a result of coming into contact with red kryptonite, while on a mission to rescue a team of drivers trapped deep beneath the sea. “Huh? Where am I? Why am I wearing this strange costume?” asks Kal-El, dopily.
A similar level of befuddlement seems to be operating over at Warner Bros’s DC Entertainment, responsible for overseeing the studio’s new slate of superhero movies and TV shows based on the DC Comics back catalogue. Speaking at Variety’s entertainment and technology summit in LA this week, Diane Nelson revealed that the studio was not keen on the shared superhero universe model which has brought rival Marvel so much success.
By way of example, DC felt no pressure to ensure its megahyped Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice big-screen epic fed into TV show Gotham, which features a teenage take on the caped crusader. “We’re so talent driven,” said Nelson, adding that the single universe model “could end up handcuffing our creators into trying to work with the same storyline, or force them to hold back characters or introduce certain characters. Ultimately it hinders the ability for someone like Bruno Heller to come in and create Gotham.”
All well and good, you might think. And after catching a few episodes of DC’s overrated television effort The Flash, I’m more than delighted the Grant Gustin version of speedy superhero Barry Allen will never turn up in the movies (Warner has hired We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller instead).
But elsewhere, notably on the big screen, Warner is already mixing up its comic book titans. Batman v Superman is an obvious example of cross-pollination, and Zack Snyder’s film will also feature Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, all of whom are primed to get their own spin-off movies.
Likewise, Batman is expected to have a cameo role in Suicide Squad, David Ayer’s promising supervillain smackdown. Are we to believe that Jared Leto’s Joker won’t turn up in future Ben Affleck solo turns as the dark knight if he proves popular with fans?
Perhaps Nelson simply wants to keep DC’s TV and film efforts separate, which makes some sense. But I suspect it’s about more than creative room for manoeuvre. Even Gotham, the best of DC’s small screen efforts, hasn’t really proven itself yet. Hiving it off from the studios’ cinema arm simply makes it easy enough for the company to pretend Heller’s show never happened – a strong dose of red kryptonite should do the trick – if the show has been cancelled by the time Batman v Superman arrives in multiplexes.
It’s the opposite approach from the one taken by Marvel, whose willingness to declare the excellent small screen version of Daredevil part of its cinematic universe has given viewers the confidence to invest time in the show. And the studio’s determination from the very beginning that Thor, Iron Man, Captain America et al would all get their own movies before joining up for The Avengers helped build a real sense that Joss Whedon’s 2012 megahit was bound to be a bona fide theatrical event.
By contrast, and despite its announcement last June of a slate of 10 new superhero movies based on the DC catalogue between now and 2020, Warner/DC’s approach seems tentative. Apologies in advance to those regular readers of this column who already think I’m being paid by Marvel, but if Batman v Superman fails, can we really expect the studio to go ahead with individual movies based on the film’s lesser-known superheroes – let alone fund a proposed ream of Justice League movies featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman battling together to save the Earth?
Speaking of Bats and Supes, the hype continues to build for Snyder’s film following an interview with Jesse Eisenberg this week in which the Social Network actor said the role of Lex Luthor would be his most challenging yet.
“In a lot of ways Luthor is more of a stretch than any character you would do in an independent movie, which is normally the place you stretch,” Eisenberg told the New York Observer. “So in that way it was not at all compromised. If anything it was the best, most advantageous role I’ve ever been given.”
The actor described the script, by the Oscar-winning Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, as one which is focused on the question of how a single man, Superman, can have so much power. “These are the kind of things that we talk about when we think about authoritarian states, when we talk about Vladimir Putin having a strong foothold in eastern Europe,” he said. “They’re addressing geopolitics in this movie and not in a way that’s pretentious or esoteric.”
“Terrio cleverly ties in these really exciting superhero elements with these really sophisticated, philosophical themes in a much smarter, different way. That’s what I like to do with my writing [he writes for the New Yorker]: to have these very sophisticated, philosophical debates happen on very basic levels.”
Such a reading certainly offers hope for those of us who like our superhero movies complex and cerebral. And it perhaps explains, at least in part, why Warner/DC seems so keen to bide its time before nailing all its properties into a single tonally uniform universe: it seems unlikely, after all, that the team behind the upcoming Supergirl TV show would hugely appreciate being asked to infuse their own effort with lashings of geopolitical allegory.